AP Photo/Bob Jordan
Start Your EnginesTalladega didn't fail to deliver its usual big crashes and a crazy finish. Its status as a "wild-card" Chase race also remained firmly intact, as the standings were shuffled like a deck of cards. Seven of the 12 playoff drivers changed position in the points, and though Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle remained second and third, their gap behind leader Jimmie Johnson (also unchanged after Dega) widened after Edwards started the last big crash with 15 laps to go. There should be bumper stickers on eight Chasers' haulers this week reading "Talladega Happens" (sponsors wouldn't appreciate the original slogan). This week, however, personal responsibility is back. Sprint Cup heads to Lowe's Motor Speedway on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ABC), a familiar spot for everyone and a track where drivers don't just cross their fingers and hope for a good day. "I'm looking forward to racing in Charlotte this week and getting back to a track where I feel comfortable," said Edwards, of Roush Fenway Racing. "We need a strong finish this weekend to make up for some of the ground we lost last week when we crashed out at Talladega." There's no excuse for not being ready, as everyone tested there last month and ran 600 miles over Memorial Day weekend. And it's another one of the 1.5-mile ovals that any driver with title hopes needs to conquer. Four of the six Chase races remaining are on such intermediate tracks, including two more quad-ovals at Atlanta and Texas. "Our 1.5-mile stuff has been pretty good this year. It's been really consistent. So we've just go to keep doing those things we've been doing and try to make it a little better, which is what we worked on during the Charlotte test," said Kevin Harvick, sixth in points for Richard Childress Racing. "Charlotte is kind of its own beast with the hard tires, and the asphalt is really, really smooth. It's not like Atlanta or Texas or any of those racetracks. So it's kind of its own unique setup." Not all Chasers reported having great tests last month. Johnson was one of them, perhaps starting to show a few dents in what had been impenetrable armor at his sponsor's namesake track. Johnson won five of his first nine starts at Lowe's, but blew an engine in the 600 this year and finished 10th and 14th in last year's races. He doesn't have a win since the track was repaved before the 2006 races, though he did finish second in both events that year. "If it were the old track, I would feel more confident about it," said the two-time defending champion, who owns a 72-point lead over Edwards. "I think of it almost like I would Texas. I've won there, but it's still a very challenging track. I don't know where we're going to be, and I've just got to show up ready for anything." Perhaps Edwards, with an average finish of 7.6 in seven starts, can regain some position he lost at Talladega. Or maybe Jeff Burton, a very quiet fourth in points after finishing fourth at Talladega, can move himself into what has been a three-man title discussion. "Charlotte is a racetrack that requires patience and rhythm and, typically, that's when we perform our best," said Burton, 99 points off the lead. "We learned a lot when we tested at Charlotte a couple of weeks ago so, based on that, we're looking forward to this weekend's race." It's a welcome change from Talladega, which few looked forward to.
Rocket ManTony Stewart: A week ago we wondered whether Smoke had one more win left in the orange No. 20, or whether this farewell season would continue to be disappointing. Well, we're still waiting for a win in the orange (Sunday's yellow/green scheme with orange lettering was hideous), but no more wondering that the two-time champion might finish like a lame duck. "It's no secret we've been a little bit off all year. But there's been opportunities, opportunities to win, and something's happened. We finally had one of those days where everything went right for us," said Stewart, who moved from 11th to seventh in points. "I mean, there's been a lot of nights going home at night going, 'Man, what do I have to do? How long is this slump going to be? What do we have to do to get out of it?' At least for the next six days, I get to say that I'm out of it." John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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